The Gardening Struggle

I picked the lemon cucumber when it began to turn yellow on the outside. I figured that must mean it was done. Also, its growth had stagnated and it was getting no bigger.

It was room temperature, as it had just come from the garden. It smelled and tasted like a cucumber. It was sustenance and nutrition. It was one less time that i had to look to outside sources to fill my belly.

For some time i had been watching these two female flowers on this mystery squash plant that seemed to be growing way too close to the other plants i had growing in the mosquito net tent. The male flowers had bloomed for a week, one by one, and now that the male flowers were nearly used up, the female flowers were getting ready. I knew i would have to rip open the female flowers early in order to make use of the male flowers pollen before the last of the male flowers were shriveled and gone, or the female flowers would shrivel and the potential squash would drop off long before the plant made more male flowers. I checked the plant all week. I had the most detailed of plans in place. Stuff happened at work. I got distracted. I forgot about the squash for one day. The last of the male flowers bloomed. I forgot to rip the female flowers open. It wasn’t until the following day that i realized my mistake when i found, the female flowers had opened. If they were open… one of the male flowers was unsalvageable, shriveled and void of pollen, bugs eating it on the ground. The other was shriveled but still on the plant. I carefully cut the top of the shriveled flower away, peering inside. There was still pollen at the center of the flower. I thought maybe i could divide the pollen in half, depositing pollen from one male flower into both open female flowers on the plant. I cut the flower from the plant, peeled away the petals, and turned it upside down, depositing half of the pollen in one flower and half of it in the other. With so little pollen left, i knew it was a long shot, but i had to try. I had been waiting so long for these squash to be ready to pollinate. I couldn’t admit defeat, especially since it was my fault i had missed the window. The wind picked up and the weather radio warned a storm was coming. My heart sank. The wind would blow all the pollen out of the flowers and the rain would definitely wash it away. I didn’t have any more pollen. What was on the flowers had to be protected at all costs. Amidst a show of lightening and rumbling thunder i put the dogs in their crates inside the house and locked the chicken pen. I ran back to the mosquito net tent where i cut the squash flowers from a different kind of plant that didn’t have any female flowers to pollinate. I turned them upside down and pressed them against the pollinated squash flowers, forming a little orange tent to protect them against the rain. It wasn’t air tight or vacuum sealed so i placed plastic cups over the flower tents to try to further protect the pollen from the arriving weather. As i stood in the mosquito net tent i began to get wet but i wouldn’t budge. Every time a gust of wind knocked the cups over, i set them straight again, placing them over the squash flower tents. When the storm had pretty much worn itself out and the wind was gone i dared to leave the tent, trudging back to the house in my wet clothes and muddy sandals. I undressed on the porch and went inside. Once in new clothes i hung the rain-soaked ones in the shower to drip dry. I would leave my flower-tent/cup system alone until the evening when i went to check all the plants and see what needed watered. As i removed the plastic cups i was delighted to find that the wilting squash flowers i had placed over the pollinated ones had turned sticky in their wilting state and glued themselves thoroughly to the squash flowers they were resting on top of. It had become a sealed pouch, trapping the pollen inside. It worked rather thoroughly because two days later i would peel the dried crusty flower combo off of the squash to find that both of them had grown rounder and appeared to be getting slightly larger. It was then that i realized the mystery squash was a butternut squash. I suddenly knew why they were planted so close to other plants. I wouldn’t have done this on purpose. The butternut squash seeds i had tried to sprout refused to do so. They never came up. However, i had spread the dirt from the toy boxes along the floor of the tent. The seeds must have still been in the dirt. They must have decided to sprout once in the tent. I was ecstatic. Two butternut squash would be quite the haul when they were ready some day. Oh how good they would taste!

The little candyland tomatoes began to turn orange.

The first time i picked one i was surprised. They were not only insanely sweet, but sour as well. The flavor reminded me of when i used to suck on warheads candies as a child. They were pretty sour but there was also an insane amount of sugar in there. The tomatoes were just like the candies. They were very tart but so sweet at the same time that it didn’t make my mouth pucker. They were intriguing little morsels. I didn’t know what to make of them. After one chew, the thing was so small it was pretty much gone. I felt, perhaps if i had a handful of them at once i could figure out what the flavor was. However, there were never more than 2 ripe at a time.

I grew another yellow squash, a pea, and some green beans as well.

The squash was even nuttier than the first. I picked it when it was a little younger than the other and the flavor was even better. The seeds were softer. The green beans were the best thing i had ever tasted in life. The flavor was nothing like green beans, or the kind i knew at least. It was something different; salty, toasted, and buttery. There were only two beans; just a small pile, but i enjoyed them thoroughly, tasting each spoonful two pieces at a time to make the experience last longer.

One thursday night i was hungry but all the potatoes, squash, carrots, brussels sprouts, and kale had been used up earlier in the week and the next box didn’t arrive until the following afternoon. I had already made the oatmeal for the following morning’s breakfast and packed my lunch but there was nothing left to eat in that moment. I went to the cherry tomato plant on the porch and picked all the red ones. I sliced them in half and laid them on a plate. I took an avocado from the imperfects food order and cut it up. I sprinkled salt and balsamic vinegar overtop the veggies. Then i dug in. It was really good.

I never dreamed i would have so many problems growing potatoes. The pill bugs and grub worms were eating the potatoes from under the ground. My only clue would be when the above ground plant started to wilt. It would turn yellow and droop. As i pulled it up, i would see pill bugs racing in every direction and a grub worm might be trying to burrow further underground, suddenly exposed to the sunlight. I was having the hardest time because the potatoes were only babies. They weren’t ready yet. However, when the bugs severed the roots from the leaves…i guessed they had to be done because there was no plant left to grow them. When this happened i would pull the baby potatoes up and take them inside.

I got three potatoes out of my battle with the bugs but they were all babies. I took them gladly but i would have to find some better way to grow potatoes. I dug a deeper hole and planted my next batch further down in the dirt. Maybe the pill bugs wouldn’t go down that far. I wasn’t sure. I was just experimenting at that point.

I sliced up the baby yukon gold potatoes and put them in a bag with olive oil, salt, and pepper. I sealed the bag and shook it vigorously until all the potato halves were coated. Then i arranged them on a parchment lined cookie sheet.

The potatoes were good enough. They were nothing special. They tasted like potato. I wished they could have ripened fully. They would probably have been better.

The first bean i harvested was simply because the plant died. The beans were not ready.

There were only three small beans and by the time they had dried they were so shriveled i lost one and then another in the pattern of the counter top and never found them. I threw the third bean away. Once dried it was large enough for me to see, but barely. It was no good.

A week later another bean plant would turn yellow and die. However, this plant was finished with its beans. When i took them out of the pod they were big and round. Viable beans. I dried them and added them to my two year old bag of garden-grown beans. One day i hoped to have a half a cup of beans to eat.

It seemed the lemon cucumbers were faring the best with my human powered pollination methods. they had many flowers and maybe 30 of them would all open at once, as opposed to the squash plants that produced all the male flowers…then saw them gone and wilted and put out all the female flowers afterwards. It was an exhausting task trying to get them to hook up on the same day.

The lemon cucumber plant didn’t seem to be able to support the growth of more than one cucumber at a time, so, maybe 5 of them would get pollinated but they’d remain little until i’d picked the one that was growing and then another would begin its growth while the others waited in the docket for their turn. They were very crunchy cucumbers; full of juice. They weren’t like the ones in the store. They were good to eat without anything on them.

I grew one tiny russet potato.

Some black beans

More black beans and a candyland tomato

I delighted at all the black beans found in their dried and withering pods. It was food. Anything that could be dried and stored in the pantry was mighty good and welcome food.

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